Have you ever woken up in the morning feeling disorientated, not entirely sure where you are? I can't be the only one who has had this happen, especially when awakening from a very intense dream or when on holiday and the bed is positioned at a different angle than I'm used to. It usually only takes a few seconds – a minute at most – to regain my bearings and remember where I am. But what if minutes turn into hours and you're still not sure about your surroundings? What if everything if just slightly different from what you are used to; your bedroom is decorated differently and your mum's hair has changed colour overnight?
That is what happens to Ella one day when she wakes up and the first thing she notices is that her bed is in a different place. Initially she believes that she is still dreaming but as confusing hours turn into frantic days she finally realises that it might have something to do with a recent car accident she was in and maybe she is suffering from severe case of amnesia. At the edges of her memory things still don't quite make sense though, and Ella makes it her mission to find out why everything feels so different and strange. And with the help of someone at school she does a mind-blowing discovery that forces her to make a very difficult choice.
Coincidentally this was the second book in the same week that I read referencing the possibility of alternate dimensions and so without meaning to I was of course comparing the two novels and their quality of world-building. When I Was Me would've been a highly original young adult sci-fi novel had I read it at any other time, but because I was still very much in awe of Claudia Gray's Ten Thousand Skies Above You (the stunning sequel to A Thousand Pieces of You), my opinion of Hilary Freeman's interpretation of the much-speculated phenomenon did suffer somewhat.
That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy this book, because I certainly did, I was especially intrigued by the mystery element running throughout. Is Ella dreaming? In a coma? In an alternate universe? For the majority of the novel the truth is unclear and it was really exciting uncovering the possibilities along the way with Ella. It was a terrifying thought as well though and I was in awe with how well Ella coped, considering that her entire world and everything she thought she knew about herself had turned completely upside down.
The mixture of mystery and sci-fi worked particularly well, and it was interesting to see Ella focus on some far less important aspects, such as her best friend and boyfriend, despite the confusion. It added a touch of realism, because of course a teenager is going to focus on these self-centred things rather than look at the bigger picture. Unfortunately once the mystery was unraveled – and a tad predictably at that – the story took a different direction and one that I felt detracted from the previous tension and excellent build-up. It was far too rushed towards the end and some continuity mistakes jarred its conclusion as well.
When I Was Me is an interesting one, mixing an intriguing mystery very well with sci-fi elements and teenage angst. It wasn't perfect from start to finish but it was an enthralling journey and considering the fact that it is quite a short read, it's definitely worth picking up to loose yourself in for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Buy a copy of When I Was Me from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
About Hilary Freeman